Thursday, February 12, 2009

Night at the Improv: Kei Akagi

You know it's an important event at a university when the Chancellor is in attendance, but UCI's head, Michael Drake, appears more frequently at performances and exhibitions of its Claire Trevor School of the Arts than most of his predecessors.
That's not just a sign that he takes an especially healthy interest in the arts but that UCI has much to be proud of in its arts programs. Tonight was a case in point.
I was invited by Claire Trevor School's acting Dean Alan Terricciano to join him and his wife Lisa for a performance by Kei Akagi and the Tokyo Trio. Akagi holds a UCI Chancellor's Professorship and heads its jazz program.
But he is really best-known as one of the most formidable improvisational jazz pianists in the world. His career associations read like a Who's Who of the jazz world: the last pianist to be part of the legendary Miles Davis's ensemble, appearances, tours and regular gigs with Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola, Stanley Turrentine and Sadao Watanabe.
For the past seven years, though, he's had his own band, including bass player Tomokazu Sugimoto and an innovative percussionist named Tamaya Honda. Tonight's performance repeats on Friday night at 8 p.m. in UCI's Winifred Smith Hall, a suitably intimate and acoustically fine space.
Don't expect to hear jazz standards (though Akagi performed one in his unique style as an encore): this is original music and each of the 6 pieces on the two set program were lengthy, complex, rhythmically varied and well rehearsed--even though Akagi revealed in brief remarks that he and his musicians rarely stick to the charts. Of course, anyone with that kind of virtuosity can make spontaneous combustion seem facile! His keyboard work was about the best I've ever seen or heard, regardless of genre.

No comments: